The Humble Backyard Beekeeper: Your Urban Superhero in Disguise
Today’s announcement by NSW’s Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is a significant one. For the first time in history, the Varroa mite variation “Destructor” – the most serious pest of honeybees worldwide - has been discovered on Australian shores. The closest we’ve come in the past, was a detection on a ship docked at the Port of Melbourne in 2018. It was eradicated on the spot by Agriculture Victoria before it came to shore.. what a team!
Australia remained the only country in the world without Varroa until now. On Wednesday 22nd June 2022, Varroa Destructor was discovered in sentinel hives located at the Port of Newcastle. Situated near major Australian Ports, sentinel hives are owned and closely monitored by State Government Agriculture Teams, to detect exotic pests or disease that may arrive by boat on the back of a stow-away honeybee. If a swarm of bees enters Australia via an incoming ship, they first seek refuge and food via the nearest local hive.
A Varroa Destructor infestation in Texas, USA, 2021. Photo courtesy of Texan backyard beekeeper, Kim Powers.
From this point on for NSW, it’s all systems go. In their bid to eradicate any potential incursion to both kept and feral honeybee hives, the DPI NSW are at the forefront of a major detection and eradication program. They have set up a biosecurity zone within 50klm of the Port of Newcastle and every beekeeper within that zone is now part of a team that no one ever wished to join.
Enter the backyard beekeeper. Most “Beeks” (as they are sometimes affectionately known), keep their bees in small apiaries of one to five hives, beautifully and strategically placed in sunny positions. Some apiaries sit proudly beside flower beds and vegetable gardens, others placed brilliantly on rooftops or carefully on balconies with chimney’s redirecting their flight path. Almost all apiaries are time wasters, when distracted beekeepers watch their bees with cups of tea or a glass of wine - suddenly half an hour has disappeared. Backyard beekeepers typically have bees because they love them, their delicious sweet by-product and their pollination skills.
Allison & our good friend Neil - Checking their apiary in 2017
Not many people realise that our backyard beekeepers are Superhero's in disguise. If it wasn’t for the backyard beekeeper, regular inspections of so many densely situated urban bee colonies would be impossible. Feral hives and swarms would not be highly sought after, collected and managed and disease would be even more difficult to detect and eradicate.
Working alongside the efforts of our experienced commercial beekeeping community, are thousands of backyard beekeepers Australia wide, who are all essentially our countries mini-bee biosecurity officers.
Through regular inspections, honey culture testing, sugar shake testing, drone uncapping or even alcohol washing, backyard beekeepers are constantly checking for exotic pests and disease. They are at the forefront of our detection efforts - and never before in the history of agriculture in Australia, have we relied so heavily on the humble hobbyist.
Finding Varroa Destructor now and eradication, is much better than living with it. As we work together as a community, early detection and eradication will be key in protecting our important pollinators and our apiculture industry in general.
Next time you bump into your local beekeeper, whether they operate commercially or as a hobbyist, don’t forget to give them a nod and thank them for their efforts. And if your Superhero happens to keep bees within the 50klm radius of Newcastle, it might be nice to take a moment and ask if they’re ok.
A time wasted moment, 2021
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